10 Ways Gaming Can Improve Your Health

Cropped SingleCare logo By | December 21, 2015

Video games are often criticized for encouraging unhealthy behavior, but new research has shown that gaming can actually be good for us in a surprising number of ways.

We’ve heard the warnings about playing too many video games: they’re bad for our eyes, they prevent us from getting enough exercise, and they have a negative impact on our social lives. Gamers are often labeled lazy or socially inept, but more and more studies are revealing the potential health benefits of gaming. This preconception is quickly getting debunked. Here are 10 positive effects video games may have on both body and mind:

1. Improve your Motor Skills

According to researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, allowing young children to play video games could help develop their motor skills. Studies show that preschool-age children who play interactive games on consoles like the Wii have better motor skills than those who do not. We think of motor skills as related to sports for a reason. These skills include ball skills like kicking, catching, and throwing.

2. Improve your Vision

Another critique of gaming is the idea that too much screen time can be detrimental to our eyesight. However, according to research first authored by Daphne Bavelier, video games may actually have the opposite effect. They’ve been shown to improve contrast sensitivity, which is the ability to distinguish between different shades of color. This function generally deteriorates with age, but may last longer in gamers.

3. Enable Faster Decision-Making

As well as developing sharper vision, gamers may find that their decision-making skills also improve with playing. Bavelier’s research found that playing action games results in the ability to find details more easily and make quicker and more accurate decisions.

4. Promote positive Mental Health

Recent clinical trials, like ones highlighted by game designer Jane McGonigal, have suggested that online gaming outperforms pharmaceuticals in the treatment of depression and anxiety. The study, undertaken at East Carolina University, showed that just half an hour of gameplay per day can result in significant mood improvements, which is great for mental well-being.

5. Relieve pain

Beyond the mental health benefits, gameplay can also have a psychological effect on people suffering from severe pain. Virtual reality games as distraction techniques, like the ones developed by University of Washington psychologists in their game “Snow World,” help gamers focus and can help relieve patients’ physical symptoms. These distraction techniques have been tried out on hospital patients and, in some cases, resulted in a decreased need for pain medication.

6. Happy Family Relationships

Rather than making us antisocial, gaming can actually bring us closer to family and friends. Designer Jane McGonigal says that playing games like Farmville allows people to stay connected with each other, where they would otherwise grow apart. The farm may be fictional, but the happier relationships that the game fosters are ultimately beneficial to our real-world mental health.

7. Better hand-eye coordination

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that playing action video games led to an improvement in hand-eye coordination over time. When tests were carried out on both gamers and non-gamers, the gamers fared better. People who are strong in this area tend to do very well at activities such as driving or typing.

8. Get your “Exergaming” On

One of the biggest assumptions made about gaming is that it promotes inactivity and weight gain. But “exergaming,” exercising while gaming as defined by WebMD, like those on the Nintendo Wii, can actually encourage exercise. Children are more likely to strike up a game after playing the virtual version, and it’s especially helpful for staying active in the colder months. Games like Just Dance are also great for encouraging kids (and adults!) to bust a move, one pop hit at a time.

9. Improve your intelligence

It may be surprising to learn that gaming can boost brain power, but that’s what a team of London- and Houston, TX-based scientists writing in PLOS ONE have discovered after conducting brain flexibility tests on 72 volunteers who played “Starcraft” or “The Sims” over a number of weeks. They are not yet sure whether these cognitive improvements are permanent, but it certainly dispels the myth that gaming is linked to low intelligence.

10. Slow down the aging process

Keeping mentally active as we get older is very important, and gaming has been shown to improve memory and focus in elderly people, according to the New York Times. Gaming could be a key component in slowing down the brain’s aging process and allowing older people to continue living full lives for as long as possible.

All of this is great news for gamers, but even if Candy Crush is the closest you get to gaming, SingleCare can help you stay at your healthiest while enjoying your hobby. Whether you have insurance or not, you’ll have affordable access to a wide range of healthcare, including physical therapy, chiropractic, medical and mental health services, as and when you need it. It’s free to join, so you never have to worry about hidden charges, allowing you to focus on the game in hand.

(Main image credit: Kraig Scarbinsky/thinkstock)